Blue Dog ‘Moderation’: It’s About the Campaign Donations, Stupid

Martin Longman makes a very good point about the ersatz moderation of the Blue Dog/New Democrats (boldface mine):

If you’re using “Blue Dog” as a synonym for “moderate,” then I don’t disagree. But the Blue Dogs are known for more than being conservative on some issues and liberal on others. They’re known above all for being budget hawks. This is what unites them more than their positions on abortion or gay rights or immigration.

The model for a successful Blue Dog is to take a hardline on spending and to a large degree on regulation. This endears them to the local business community which lavishes them with money. They need the money because the Democratic-voting constituents in their districts are often among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country, and they’re not in a position to fill a politician’s campaign coffers. A Democrat who runs in these rural districts without business support is going to be underfunded, and a Democrat who doesn’t at least neuter the local business community is going to be blasted out of the water when the money goes overwhelmingly to their opponents.

The Democrats have had a lot of success with this model, but it has some major disadvantages. People call this kind of campaigning “Republican-Lite” for a good reason. A Democrat who takes a conservative position on many social issues and a pro-business position on spending and regulations, is not a whole lot different from a Republican, and why wouldn’t people prefer a real Republican to a bad facsimile?

One problem is that the Blue Dog model is based more on financial necessity than ideological necessity.

It doesn’t help that Blue Dogs and their enablers have enacted policies that weaken the organizations that could make up the contribution shortfall (e.g., labor union volunteers). It’s also not clear that Democrats have had a lot of success with the Blue Dog model: most of the Blue Dogs who swept into office in 2006 or 2008–and it’s not clear that this was anything other than voting against the Republican–were gone after the 2010 collapse. Given that the fiscally conservative, socially moderate to liberal group is vanishingly small, except among the donor class, it’s pretty clear that’s not an electorally stable strategy over the long term either.

Nonetheless, the logic of “neuter[ing] the local business community” is one that is widely shared among Democrats. It’s a problem.

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